National Journal recently ran a cover story on “The New Rick Perry.” National Journal is not widely read outside of DC, but inside DC it is widely respected for the kind of in-depth analysis that most publications never seem to find room for.
The article on the “new” Rick Perry is a good example of why National Journal is widely read by people who think seriously about politics. Michelle Cottle has recognized that Perry is building a new image in an effort to jump-start a stalled presidential bid.
The “new” Perry label is especially meaningful to longtime political observes because it harkens back to the “new Nixon” that emerged from devastating back-to-back defeats in the presidential race in 1960 and the 1962 California gubernatorial election. Politically, Nixon was dead in the water. In fact, he had told the press after the election that “you don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”
Perry has faced his defeats. His stumbles in the 2012 campaign have been documented. More recently, the results of the Texas Republican straw poll (“Ted Cruz wins presidential straw poll“) made clear that Rick Perry’s future was in jeopardy–unless he makes some changes.
The problem was not Perry simply finishing behind Ted Cruz . Cruz is a great match with the Republican base in Texas in 2014 and he would be tough to beat with the kinds of Republicans who filled the state convention this summer. Perry could easily say that the Texas GOP is different from the national party and that he would enjoy broader support in other states. However, finishing in fourth place suggests that his appeal has become very narrow. Finishing behind Ben Carson, a newcomer known primarily for his appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013, should warn Perry that Texas Republicans are looking hard for alternatives to Perry. Finishing behind the Rand Paul, the new face of the Libertarian wing of the party, should tell him a little about the future of the Republicans. The “Texas miracle” is not firing up voters in Texas. Why would it win hearts and minds in other states?
Finishing behind Cruz also tells us that Perry can no longer command the spotlight in Texas politics. Cruz is exhibiting more star power than Perry. And, unfortunately for Perry, star power is important for fundraising. Presidential candidates need the support of large donors to get their campaigns started. Perry needs Republicans to give him thousands of dollars and then get on the phone and convince their friends to contribute to Perry. Writing those checks and making those calls requires a lot of confidence in the candidate. Perry’s failed 2012 campaign gave Republican doubts about his breadth of his appeal and Texas straw poll renewed doubts about the depth of his appeal.
The Rick Perry we knew if not going to get elected president. His work so far has not resonated sufficiently with voters. Perry recognizes the need for some extensive rebranding to excite donors and win the hearts of Republican voters. The National Journal article could have used the language of comic books and movies and talked about a Perry “reboot.” That might have been familiar to more readers. However, the fact that the “new” Nixon won the presidency in 1968 (and again in a landslide in 1972) after his defeats. The Nixon reference is an excellent remainder that anything is possible in politics. The Republican field is wide open and the new Rick Perry might prove much better than the old Perry. The National Journal story does a good job of previewing the new Rick Perry and anyone thinking about Perry’s presidential aspirations needs to give it a read..